One of the most common accidents to happen among all ages of people is the slip-and-fall accident. We most often hear about them happening to elderly people, but if a location is unsafe, anyone can fall. Indeed, depending on the lack of safety of a specific business or home, the owner or operator may be liable under a theory of law called premises liability.
The National Floor Safety Institute estimates that approximately 21% of all hospital emergency room visits are due to falls. This volume is simply not due to people being clumsy; rather, it sometimes occurs when homeowners and business owners do not properly maintain their premises. Owners have a legal obligation to keep their premises in a safe state (or, at least, as safe as reasonably possible) for the safety of their guests. If they cannot do so, they must notify their guests about any possible hazards on the property (within reason; the specifics are set out in South Carolina law).
At common law, there were three different categories of notice owed to guests who might enter upon the land of another person, because there were three different categories of guests.
- An invitee is someone who enters a home or business for both their and the owner’s mutual benefit. An example is a plumber visiting a house to perform repairs, or a customer in a restaurant. The landowner receives a benefit (in this case, services, or money) and so does the invitee (money or the product they pay for). The highest duty of care is owed to this class.
- A licensee is someone who has permission to be on the property, but they are there for their own purposes rather than providing any tangible benefit to the landowner. An example of a licensee would be a party guest or family friend – they may provide their company, but that is not a tangible benefit. A middling duty of care is owed to licensees, including a duty to warn of any dangerous conditions.
- A trespasser is, as one might imagine, someone who enters onto the land without permission. No duty of care is owed to a trespasser aside from refraining from intentionally injuring them.
These categories still hold sway in South Carolina in most regards. One of the rare exceptions is when dealing with recreational areas – landowners owe almost no duty to people who use their premises for recreational purposes.
Negligence and Premises Liability
Regardless of the category you may occupy, if you were injured on someone else’s property, you may have a claim against them. In order to prevail on a premises liability claim, you must fulfill four criteria. They are:
- The landowner must owe a duty of care toward you, meaning that they must ensure their property meets a certain level of safety. This is where many premises liability claims fail; a person may believe themselves, for example, to be an invitee and thus entitled to the highest degree of care, when a court determines they are a licensee or a trespasser.
- That duty, if it exists, must have been breached, either by the landowner’s conduct or lack thereof (for example, a lack of action to eliminate a danger on the property).
- You must be able to prove that the landowner’s conduct was the direct cause of your injury.
- You must be able to show that you have suffered tangible damages – not necessarily physical, but damages that are able to be appreciated and last a significant amount of time.
All of these criteria must be met in order to prevail, though it may be easier or more difficult depending on the class of plaintiff you belong to. If the injured person is a child, the case may be even more complex, depending on the child’s age and capacity. A doctrine called attractive nuisance may be applied – an attractive nuisance is a construction or natural formation on property that may reasonably be anticipated to attract children. Landowners are required in all circumstances to post warnings and take other steps to discourage children trespassing on the site. If they do not, liability may be heightened.
Contact An Experienced Attorney
Premises liability cases can be difficult to pin down. It helps to have a professional in your corner. The North Charleston premises liability attorneys at Callihan & Syracuse know how to handle cases of this nature, and will always work hard to ensure your interests are protected. Contact us today to discuss your options.